Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Spiritual disciplines

A lot of times when someone hears the phrase "spiritual disciplines", one of the following thoughts may rise up:

  • If it's spiritual, why do I have to "do" anything? Isn't "spiritual discipline" an oxymoron?
  • Sounds selfish. Why not do something for somebody else?
  • Is this about the "big 3" disciplines from Judaism that Jesus talks about in his sermon on the mount (prayer, fasting, giving)?

OK, you got me... these are my thoughts that often rise up when thinking about spiritual disciplines. But it's not because disciplines are a bad thing -- it's just my cynicism and rebeliousness coming to the forefront.

A friend challenged me to write down some personal disciplines that are simple, achievable and have an impact. Here's what I came up with:

  • I will smile and use the name of service-people I come in contact with (waiters, cashiers, etc...).
  • I will read the bible with an open mind to learn new things, not just reaffirm what I've always thought.
  • I will listen to God's lessons in daily relationships, discussions, experiences and challenges. He can teach me through the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.
  • I will remind myself that other people are priceless souls, just like me. They are all worthy of respect and unconditional love.
  • I will use the internet to become a better person.
  • I will use film the same way (will watching this movie give me an opportunity to grow?).
  • I will find my niche in work that is fun, rewarding and fitting, but I won't worry about it. I will trust God with my career.
  • I will put my family relationships above all other earthly ones. They come first and should get my best, not my leftovers.
  • I will pay attention to people in need, and try to meet those needs.
  • I will remember that redemption is not dependent on what I do. I will relax about eternity and try to stay in the moment.
  • I will give myself room to screw up all of the above.

If this year has taught me nothing else, it has given me an appreciation and acceptance of people across all walks of life. My list above may have absolutely no relevance to you at all, and today I can accept that and inquire about your own life lessons, hoping we can all learn together. Life's too short to keep learning lessons the hard way through personal experience. I'm ready to cheat off somebody else's work for a bit. :)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Julian Ruiz funeral, Western-style

Last Friday was Julian’s funeral, and there was plenty of drama to go around. Here’s a rundown on the proceedings, put in the structure of an all-time great film:

The Good

The funeral was held at United Methodist Church in Westbury, less than a mile from the street where Julian was killed. There were three main ministers for the funeral – the senior pastor, the associate pastor and the music minister. You can read a profile for each of them here (hold the “Shift” key when you click on the link to open it in a new window, or else you’ll leave this site).

I really liked Dr. Phillips, the senior pastor. He has a very genuine, down-to-earth demeanor and had some good comments. My favorites included:

  • “Did anyone of you in here give yourself life? Did you choose who you are, when you were born and what family you’re in? NO! The Lord did that for you – you had no part in it! Your job now is to take what you’ve been given and choose what kind of life you want to live. Don’t waste your time or energy wishing you were somebody else or somewhere else – you’re right where you’re supposed to be.”
  • “The Lord gives life, and he also receives life. I believe that God has received Julian, and that is the solid ground that gives me peace.”

Note: I was so glad he didn’t say “God gives life, and he also takes life”. Although the bible shows instances where God used people to kill, I don’t think that’s what happened here. Those boys had a choice, and they chose to kill Julian. God didn’t take the life, but he will receive it. I liked that perspective.

The most moving part of the funeral was when Julian’s stepmom spoke. She said that she had some regrets about her relationship with Julian, but she would not wallow in them. Instead, she would channel those regrets into positive actions to make her family even stronger in the future.

--"Julian, I want you to know that I noticed how hard you were working lately to make some good changes in your life. And I’m sorry I didn’t say anything to you about it. But I did notice, and I’m very proud of you. From now on, I will pay closer attention to your brothers and sisters, and will encourage them when they show the kind of strength and dedication you were showing.”
--“Julian, I’m sorry that we had so much drama in our family. It seemed there was always a fight, a crisis or a grudge. From now on, I will not let petty disagreements mess up what should be joyful family moments. Our time together is too precious to waste on those things, and I promise I will do better.”

It was also good to spend a little bit of time with the family before the funeral, and then spend some time alone and reflect on things. I just sat and thought and watched the video tribute to Julian that was being played on the projection screen at the front of the auditorium. I sat on the fifth row on the right side of the church, and had the row all to myself. The solitude was welcomed and it seemed like my first chance in 10 days to just sit alone and be.

The Bad

This may seem pedantic and inappropriate, but the associate minister’s voice kept cracking me up during her part of the eulogy. She was a very large woman (over 6’ tall and quite wide) and seemed to have a kind spirit, but she talked like the priest in the movie “Princess Bride”. All of her “Rs” came out as a “W” sound. And of course, of all scriptures to read, she picked John 14:

Twust in God, twust also in me. In my Fathah’s house awe many wooms. I am going there to pwepare a pwace for you.

How was I supposed to keep a straight face during this? Answer: I didn’t.

The other bad part was when Julian’s oldest sister got up to speak. She said:

“There are people who have hurt Julian. Who have abused him and caused him pain. They know who they are, and Julian will haunt them forever.”

Whoa. There’s a pretty sordid history here between Julian and his mom and stepdad, but it’s not my place to share details. Just know that Julian escaped his mom and stepdad in Michigan three years ago, and was on the way to becoming a healthy human being when he was killed.
Now for the ugly.

The Ugly

The funeral was to begin at 2pm. I got there around 1:35 and visited with the family for a few minutes, then Mr. Ruiz invited me to go to the casket and see the body. I went ahead and did that, but seeing Julian’s face really didn’t have an impact on me. He’d been dead for 10 days by then, so he was very “dry” and fake-looking. Nothing at all like the face I saw lying on the street, so it was like looking at a different person.

While I was still standing there, I heard some shouts and other nosies behind me. My first instinct was that the gang had showed up, against all logic and sense at this funeral guarded by dozens of police officers. Thankfully, my first instinct was wrong – it wasn’t the gang; it was Julian’s mom and stepdad who had arrived unannounced from Michigan.

Julian’s father had seen the two of them arrive and had asked the stepdad to leave, but the stepdad stayed. Seconds later fists were flying. I kept hearing the oldest sister scream,
“You’re not his mother! You gave birth to him but that’s all you were good for! You are NOT his MOTHER!”

Very, very sad scene. So much emotion and history here, and it obviously isn’t going to lessen anytime soon. Of course there were lots of news cameras there, so the whole thing was all over the news (even CNN) just hours later.

And then it was over. Good, bad and ugly, all done.

Bonus anecdote

Friday night I was cooking some food in the kitchen while Jamie was outside with the kids. Samantha came in to check on things and noticed the smell of her favorite pasta. I confirmed that I was making it for her, and she said, “Thanks, Daddy! You’re good at making people happy!”

She ain’t so bad at it, either.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'm still alive

Since Wednesday night nothing new had really happened with Julian's family or the investigation. I tried to call around and get information about funeral plans but had no luck. Then this morning I got blasted.

In one hour, the following things happened:

  1. Jamie's father-in-law called and had the cell phone numbers of Julian's father and of Julian's stepmother. He got them by talking to the medical examiners and funeral home. Sometimes it's good to be a chaplain.
  2. Julian's stepmother called me and we talked for a few minutes. She let me know that the family still wants to talk to me about Julian's final seconds, and that there was a community meeting tonight at the high school to discuss safety. I promised her I would be at the meeting and would see them there.
  3. Courtney Lavala at Houston's NBC affiliate, Local 2 Houston, called me to let me know about the school meeting. She also wanted to interview me about my experience and my feelings and reaction to living in this neighborhood. I declined the interview but she still went through the neighborhood and talked to some people. In particular there was one really hot chick with her two kids, and the hot chick said some really good stuff about coming together and saying no to violence. Yes, the hot chick was my wife. The kids were filmed playing in the yard and loved seeing themselves on the 6 o'clock news.

After that I finished some things in the office and then headed to the YMCA for a workout, which felt great. Then I got home just in time to spend some time with the kids before going to the community meeting.

The meeting was positive and well-attended (maybe 300 people?), although of course the media focused on the one idiot heckler who showed up. After it was over, Jamie and I got to spend about 30 minutes with Julian's family, just walking the school halls and listening to their cute and heartbreaking anecdotes.

They gave us t-shirts with Julian's picture and the DOB and date of death. Below his picture were the words, "I'm still alive". Last week he burned a CD of music for his sister, and that was the title he gave the CD.

It was a big day, and a very good one! We're really starting to get the sense of our neighborhood standing up and supporting the school, the kids and the local public service staff. Why can't we ever seem to get it together unless something terrible happens first? I guess for the same reason we don't really clean house thoroughly until company's coming over.

At least it's happening now! In the past 48 hours all local graffiti has been removed, three illegal dump sites have been cleaned up and some street lights have been fixed. If only we could keep this kind of attention to this stuff without continued tragedies.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Do it anyway

Had a good day today -- things are getting back to "normal" around here. I slept well last night and all you parents out there know how good that can feel. My father-in-law had surgery this morning here in Houston, and Jamie got to go visit him and said he is recovering well. Hopefully he will get to come home tomorrow, but it may take a little longer than that.

Thank you to everyone for the sincere calls, emails and prayers of support. Those who know me well know that I'm an extremely introspective person, and it has always been a high priority for me to internalize and learn from life's experiences. This time is no different, and I fully intend on having more kindness, more gratitude, more grace and more compassion for teenagers as a response to Julian's murder. His time was cut short and he cannot personally fulfill the potential he may have had of making the world a better place. Each person who knew him will hopefully take on a part of that task for themselves.

Tomorrow I've got a good 'ole regular workday at the office, plus finally getting to the gym for that workout that was planned for Tuesday. In closing, here are a few of the lessons I've learned (or been reminded of) over the past 48 hours. They are in the format of the "do it anyway" statements made famous by Mother Teresa. I recommend you look them up.

The human body is very fragile, even the very healthiest ones. I will exercise anyway.

When I tell the truth, others might try to take advantage of me. I will tell the truth anyway.

Teaching my kids about the reality of drugs, gangs, guns and hate will be difficult. I will teach them anyway.

Helping others is almost never convenient, easy or even appreciated. I will try to help others anway.

(Special thanks to my Grandmother Baggett for her email that inspired the "helping others" statement)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The day after yesterday

In some ways today was harder than yesterday, because there were less distractions. My adrenaline rush was long gone, Samantha's BD was over and I couldn't really muster up the motivation to dig into office work.

Spent the morning at home with my family and then went to swimming class with them at 10:30 -- what a great time! I hadn't seen Samantha swim in a few months, and had never seen Jack in swim class. Both of them were very impressive. Samantha can backstroke more than 50ft, and Jack was diving to the bottom of the pool for rings (his teacher helped the bouyant little guy get to the bottom).

Sleeping was difficult last night. If it's tough again tonight, I've agreed to see a doc and maybe get a prescription for a sleep aid for a few nights. Not my style but two close friends have recommended it, so I'm trying to be a good listener.

Update on Julian events

  1. Tonight police tracked down the car of the suspected shooters in the drive-by -- it was parked in an apartment complex southwest of Houston. The car was not reported stolen and detectives have solid information on the vehicle's driver and passenger. Hopefully it's just a matter of time before they are apprehended, or turn themselves in.
  2. I was able to attend a vigil for Julian tonight, held at the scene of the shooting. At first the high school principal spotted me, shook my hand and asked me if he could do anything for me. I just asked to be informed of viewing and funeral plans so I could attend and honor/remember Julian.
  3. For a while I didn't see anyone I recognized at the vigil, but then Julian's family arrived 15 minutes late. Or maybe it was more planned that that since they were escorted by Quanell X, a local "activist" with former ties to the nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers. Basically he follows the cameras around Houston and looks for photo opportunities. He led a good prayer, though, and then got himself and his posse out of the way so Julian's father could speak to the press.
  4. Yes, the media was there... lots of cameras. More on that in a minute.
  5. After Mr. Ruiz finished his heartfelt statement, a young girl at his side spotted me and pointed me out, asking me to come to them. I did, and finally got to meet Julian's family (father, mother, aunt, brother and sister). We hugged and cried and I answered a few of their questions.
  6. One unresolved issue for them was the exact location of the shooting/death. I realized that of the four witnesses, only one had come to the vigil and she seemed distant. These kids are only teenagers and I should have guessed that it would be too much for them to come back only one day after what they'd seen. Anyway, that meant I was the only person there who knew exactly where Julian's body was. I escorted the family through the crowd to the exact spot, and Mr. Ruiz laid down a bouquet there. It was followed up with other flowers and surrounded by a circle of candles.
  7. Congressman Al Green was there and gave me his card. I'm not sure why.
  8. I gave my phone number to Mr. Ruiz because he wanted to stay in touch. I'm happy to answer questions and help give him comfort/closure about what happened, but I'm not interested in lawsuits. This isn't a cynical thought -- it's realistic when Quanell X is in the mix, trust me. At one point Quanell asked me about the amubulance response, because he'd heard it took way too long to get there. Puh-leeze. Can we just grieve in peace. He'll disappear when the cameras do.
  9. Speaking of cameras, yes, they cornered me and asked me some questions. I went ahead and answered because it wasn't detailed information about the shooting. Still, I was very thankful to watch the news tonight and discover that not a single one of the five local stations aired my comments. Mr. Ruiz deserved to be heard as he lamented the loss of his youngest son.
  10. All that remains is to talk to Mr. Ruiz and his family at some point, and attend the funeral.

Burning questions

Here are some things that have floated through my head today:

If I had to do it over again, would I do anything differently?

I'm relieved to answer this with a resounding "NO". I found out tonight that I literally missed the shooting by less than 10 seconds. The witness said I was on the scene right when Julian hit the ground. If I had known that it was a shooting then I would have looked around more, but I thought it was probably a drug overdose, seizure or just a case of fainting. My focus was on Julian, not nearby cars. Even though the car was surely in sight if I would've turned my head, I had no way to know that so there are no regrets.

How did my shirt get blood on it?

This question has bothered me, and I will probably never have the answer. Like I've said before, there was very little blood on Julian, and it was on his stomach, which I never touched. The chest wound I found had no blood whatsoever. Still, when it was all over and I was having coffee with my father-in-law, he saw the blood on my collar and shoulder. I have no idea how it got there. He graciously took the shirt to his house to wash so that Jamie would not have to see it or wash it herself.

Who is Quanell X?

This guy has been linked to many interesting organizations and has been quoted saying completely outrageous things. Yet I still don't find him dangerous because none of his promises and threats ever have any real follow-through. He seems to lose interest or funding after a while and follow the cameras to the next event. In the last few weeks he spoke at a school district meeting and jumped to the "aid" of a man tasered by a police officer. Of course the man was black and the cop was white. If it was the other way around then Quanell would never involve himself. If you are looking for some entertainment, you should go the website of the New Black Panthers and read their goals. Among them are the demands for financial reparations, the release of all black prisoners in jail, and funding to build black communities. It's some of the most racist stuff I've ever seen.

Bottom line

I will not be used for any type of racial agenda or lawsuit. I'm not a white guy who tried to save a hispanic kid in a black neighborhood. I'm just a guy who tried to do a good thing for another child of God. It didn't work, but I tried.

One woman told me tonight that "people don't just go around helping strangers like that around here." I looked her right in the eyes and said, "Maybe they'll start now." I can't control them, but as for me and my family, we serve God and our fellow man.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Life and death in one day

Today was Samantha's 4th birthday, which we have been anticipating for quite some time. Last night she was hopping up and down, repeatedly yelling, "ICANTWAITTOBEFOUR!!!!" My plan for the day was to go to work, leave a little early, get a good workout at the gym and head home in time to meet the family for a birthday dinner at Samantha's favorite restaurant (Escalante's). Jamie planned on taking Samantha to school at 9:30, then running errands with Jack during the day until Sam got out at 2:30.

I left the house at 8:40 this morning. Approximately 30 seconds later the daily agenda was totally changed. I'm processing this as I type, so please forgive me if it's too long or too scattered. As usual, though, I'll try to put some structure around it.

Part 1 -- Chronologic events from inside my head

At 8:40 I approached the corner of Burdine and Dryad, an intersection that borders Westbury High School, less than two blocks from my house. As I was about to turn left, I saw a boy lying in the street to my right, with a few friends around him crying and talking on cell phones. I hit "Mute" on my laptop computer (was listening to a sermon), put the car in reverse, parked on the curb and called 911.

First thought -- "He passed out, had a seizure, or overdosed on drugs."

The 911 operator asked me what dispatch I needed, and I said, "Ambulance". They transferred my call and I gave my location while walking across the street. There were two girls and two boys around the boy on the ground. All five of them looked to be about 16 years old, and I could tell that whatever happened, I had only missed it by a few seconds. This thing had just started. As I walked up to them, I noticed two things about the boy. First, he had a strange tattoo on his right hip/oblique (visible because his shirt was hiked up a few inches, and he wore low-hanging jeans). Second, he had a small pool of blood, perhaps 1tbsp, in his belly button.

Second thought -- "He was hit by a car and is bleeding internally."

By now I've been on the phone about 30 seconds and am speaking to the four teenagers. I tell them I know CPR and they back away, glad to let someone else be in charge. That's when I get a sudden realization of the difference between 16 years old and 30 years old. They're talking on their cell phones to friends and family, not to emergency personnel. I'm the only one calling this in to 911, and I'm the only adult on the scene. A few other students are gathering around, but they're staying back.

As I kneel down I realize the boy isn't breathing. I ask the teens if he was hit, and they say, "yes". I can tell by their voices they're super-scared and probably didn't even hear my question. I look again at the pool of blood but it doesn't appear to be growing. That's good. I need to get this kid breathing and get his heart pumping until the ambulance/EMT arrives. That shouldn't be long; there's a fire station less than 1/2 mile away.

I hear that the boy's name is Julian, and I grab his face gently to pull it towards me and check his mouth. Then I see his eyes and see that he's already gone. Just gone. There's nothing there. It wasn't even sad -- it was like looking at a shoe, a rock or some other non-living thing. I doubt I will ever forget that face.

I look again at his mouth and don't see any blood. But his lips are so pale. So pale and dry. How could that happen so fast? Why is he already gone? This whole time I've been pinching the cell phone between my shoulder and ear so I could use both hands. I talked the 911 dispatch through everything I was doing.

Time to start chest compressions. I lift his black shirt up to find his sternum and get my hand in the correct position for CPR. That's when I finally saw the hole. A tiny, perfectly round hole about one inch below the sternum. If you gave me a magic marker and five minutes I couldn't draw a hole any more in the center of his chest.

Final thought/realization -- "This boy's been shot. It's over. He's gone."

I tell the dispatcher that there's a bullet hole in chest. No blood. I can see right down into his chest, but no blood came out. And there's a pool of blood in his belly button, but no trail down from the chest wound. Where'd the belly blood come from? No matter, I start chest compressions anyway. After about 5 seconds, the fire truck arrived and they immediately told me and everyone else to back away from the body. This pissed me off because they didn't even start CPR for another few minutes. Not that it would have made a difference anyway.

The whole story I recounted took approximately two minutes to live. I was at the crime scene for nearly three hours more. The next section will be some memory flashes from those three hours.

Part 2 -- Randon memory flashes from the rest of the morning

  1. Julian is holding an iPod in his hand, wires and earbuds splayed out on the ground. One of the other boys takes it from him and gives it to another boy. There's nothing sinister or selfish about the act -- it looks more like, "here, this is a piece of our friend and we should have it before they take him away." It wouldn't surprise me if the boy keeps it his whole life but never turns it on.
  2. The EMTs put on gloves and start CPR, but it's just for show. I'm no expert but this is obvious even to me.
  3. I call Jamie and tell her what happened. I hold it together OK, but need to keep the call short. As long as I stay in the moment I seem perfectly composed and objective. My mom has always been the same way in crises, and this is a trait I'm certainly grateful to inherit.
  4. A huge black guy shows up on the scene. Black pants, tan shirt, tie, and a linebacker body. This guy is in. Charge. No doubt about it. He tells all the bystanders to get out of there, and go to school/home/wherever. Except the few witnesses and me. I never do figure out this guy's title/authority.
  5. The high school principal shows up, looking sharp in a tie and shiny shoes. He looks sorta like Tommy Davidson, the comedian. I can't imagine what he's going to go through today. What a challenge -- this high school has over 2,000 students. He is constantly talking on a Blackberry/phone combo that is leap years beyond my technology understanding.
  6. The ambulance arrives and the emergency team discusses which hospital to take Julian to. It's clear that they're only selecting the hospital that will call the official time of deaath. "Official" time of death... what a weird concept. I saw Julian at 8:40, and I'm guessing that his time of death was around 8:39:30. Note: Ben Taub Hospital pronounced Julian Ruiz dead at 9:10 a.m.
  7. Julian is finally driven away. Weird... not a drop of blood on the street. That makes sense, though, because the bullet hole was so small it had to be a .22. And that caliber wouldn't penetrate all the way through and leave an exit wound.
  8. One of the girls/witnesses, a friend of Julian's, comes up to me to thank me for what I did. I try to reply with something perfect but just blurt out, "You're welcome... I'm so sorry." For the first and only time all day, I get really choked up. Julian isn't sad to me because he's gone, and there's no pain there. But his friends are in terrible pain, and this gets to me.
  9. I've been told to stay until the homicide detectives can ask me some questions. They won't be there for another hour or so. When people get stressed they go to their comfort zone. My comfort zone is "intellectual curiosity", so I naturally start watching the building swarm of officers, emergency personnel and media to see how these things get processed and handled.
  10. My father-in-law calls to tell me he will be there soon (he's a chaplain and lives three doors down from us). It will be nice to have a familiar face there. Well, some of the news reporters are familiar faces, but that doesn't exactly give me comfort. I'm not going anywhere near them.
  11. A street-clothed cop comes onto the scene. He walks up near the former location of the body and says, "It wasn't Julian, was it?". He looks at me and I nod yes. He gets angry/frustrated and starts talking to the other officers for more information. It becomes evident that this guy spends a lot of time with these high school kids and knows them all by name. He's even given Julian a lot of advice on life and gangs. Julian didn't listen. I find it very encouraging to see a semi-undercover cop so involved with these kids.
  12. I look at the girls' faces. They're listening now -- this is changing them. The boys seem detached, maybe angry? Not a vengeful anger, though. They look too weak for that (this isn't a slam on them, just the truth).
  13. I overhear one of the boys tell an officer that there were two shots fired. That explains the pool of blood in his belly button... that's where the other bullet hit.
  14. An officer is talking to the Houston school district superintendent, and pulls out an awesome flash card with a gang symbol index. They start comparing the pictures to some of the graffiti in the area.
  15. My father-in-law arrives and stands outside the yellow police tape. I talk to him for a minute, but the reporters and cameramen start coming over to me, so I walk back to the other side of the crime scene.
  16. Eight kids get escorted out of school and brought over to the crime scene. All of them are alleged witnesses to the shooting, but went to class anyway. I also find out that my 911 call was the only one placed. WHAT?!?!? At least 12 witnesses, most of them on cell phones, but none of them call it in? I know they're just kids, but get a freakin' clue. Nobody should be allowed to use a cell phone unless they take an oath to use it to help people in a crisis by calling 911. If they can use the cell in a car while driving, eating and applying makeup, they can use it to save a life.
  17. I can hear that the witnesses have some good info. I see the suspect's name, his car's description and a drawing of his wheel rims in an officer's notepad.
  18. BBICG (Big Black In Charge Guy) yells at an officer who was talking on his radio about the scene. "Gimme fuckin' radio silence!", he says. They comply. Heck, I don't even have a radio but I almost said, "Yessir!".
  19. The homicide detectives show up on the scene, and everything changes. Everbody turns it up a notch, and I hear one officer say, "Now the real work starts." I realize that the past hour was a preparation to give these two detectives all the info they need to capture the suspect and build a case.
  20. It is HOT out here! The day ends up setting a record high of 84 degrees.
  21. The detectives hilariously fit the Hollywood sterotype. Seriously, they look like a 1980s version of a detective. Really bad suits, dumb haircuts, one guy wearing sunglasses. I'm hoping looks are deceiving and that these guys are actually sharp investigators.
  22. I've given my story to a couple of the officers on scene, and made some friends in the process. I ask about the "no blood" chest wound and they say that is rare. Mostly they see head wounds, though, which always bleed a lot. My father-in-law guesses that the chest shot clipped some artery and Julian bled out internally while laying on his back.
  23. After talking to one of the detectives, he decides that I don't need to go downtown for processing since I didn't witness anything. I'm glad to finally leave.
  24. My father-in-law and I walk to my car; we're gonna get some coffee and talk. Neither of us drinks coffee, but that is a seemingly insignificant detail. A few of the camermen follow me and ask me to talk to them, but I say, "No thanks".
  25. In the car, he asks me how this fits into all my recent wrestlings with faith and God. I explain for a few minutes that it all fits perfectly, and my faith is stronger than ever, although dramatically changed from any other time in my life. Another topic for a future blog post.

Final note: The story so far is that Julian was shot because he refused to join a gang.

Part 3 -- Picture time

Below are two pictures. The first is an untouched one from a local news station. The second one has my notes.

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Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

  1. A civilian lady who seemed to work in some type of security role on campus. She tried to comfort the kids several times but was very emotional herself.
  2. Very close friend of Julian. I'm guessing she was his girlfriend. There from the moment I arrived.
  3. Another friend, also there the whole time. She's the one who thanked me.
  4. Friend of Julian. Had the most detailed information for police. He's the one who grabbed the iPod and handed it to another guy.
  5. Principal of Westbury High School, mentioned in point #5 above.
  6. The street-clothed cop mentioned in point # 11 above.
  7. Me.
  8. Where Julian died.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

And now for something really different

We ate dinner at Jamie's parents' house tonight. It was delicious, and salad was served with the meal.

"Wow", you say. "Great story, Michael." But wait, it gets better.

Served with the salad was Newman's own salad dressing, Light Honey Mustard flavor. I happened to look at the back of the bottle to check out how "light" it really was. What I found, just above the nutritional breakdown, was this beautiful little blurb of marketing genius. This is what it said, word-for-word:

The Great Salad Dressing Baloon Race Across The Boot of Italy. An armada of baloons loaded with Light Honey Mustard. The starters gun -
Bazoombah! They all rise majestically into the air. Newman's Own Balloon, with fewer calories, more taste, and secretly propelled by charity, flies faster than Kraft and further than Wishbone. First across. First on the ground. El Piloto quaffs much quaffs of Newman's Own Light Honey Mustard in victory. A medium light starlet, daughter of Butch Cassidini, named Bitch Cassidini, leaps into the balloon basket, kisses Piloto, her lips smeared with Newman's Own Light, she murmers, "You taste of Sicily, of Vesuvius, of Naples, baby," and patting his fanny she whispers, "and no fat".

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

An introspective sojourn

Been away for quite a while. I'm not really sure if I'll ever share details of what has transpired over the past few months, but here's a summary:

There were some things in me that needed to die. Not just get squashed down to fester, nor ignored until a later date... these things needed to be assasinated. Things like legalism and pride. Spiritual precariousness and self-righteousness, somehow feeding each other in a vicious cycle. All needed to go. And for now they have, at least at some level.

These things can of course rise again, like an evil phoenix, and that's OK. I'm a flawed human being and will do my best to fight the battles laid out for me, all the while knowing that the love of God does not depend on me winning such battles.

All this to say -- I'm back and feeling fantastic! Life is good!

I have no idea what to do with this blog right now. There are always humorous family anecdotes to share, so that's an option for a weekly write-up. And of course I may have the odd ravings about funny movies or people who spit. Yet my heart is really set on the issues of faith and religion that I've been working through. And although I'm excited about that, it's not something I feel wholly comfortable sharing here, which is why the last few months have been so quiet on my end.

Bottom line: My family is healthy, our crises have cleared and I plan to get this blog going again. Nice to be back!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Taking a break

Tonight has been another hellish time with the kids -- each of them put us through the ringer and we're wiped out.

It's time for me to step away from the blog for a while, as I feel it's not a healthy thing for me lately. If there was some sort of one-time or short-term crisis, perhaps a writing outlet like this would be a cathartic exercise. However, in a longer-term time of struggle like what we've been going through, this blog feels more like a reminder of stress and trial.

My family will still be updated on health issues through email as usual. And when the old adage "this too shall pass" comes to fruition and our family is healthy again, I'll be back to writing the occasional family anecdote or observation of life in these 21st Century United States. But right now those light-hearted anecdotes would feel artificial.

Thanks for your understanding and support. In the words of the governor of California: "I'll be back."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It just doesn't stop

Jack seems to be feeling well, but now Jamie and Samantha have a stomach bug. Both of them had stomach cramps and the big "D" yesterday, and this morning Samantha began vomiting. She can't keep this up much longer before she gets dehydrated. I'd guess she's thrown up six times in the hour and a half -- we just can't keep anything in her.

I'll be staying home once again. Not that I have any sick days left, but what can you do?


Samantha's vomiting continued most of the day and into the night, and we were able to get a prescription for a heavy-duty medicine to break the cycle. This was a real blessing, as most of the time doctors would insist on seeing us in the ER rather than giving a prescription over the phone. We are very grateful for this solution and hope everyone gets some rest tonight. We still have to take Samantha to the doc tomorrow morning but it sure beats getting an IV in the ER!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Health and humor

Jack continues to do well, avoiding any spikes in fever over the past week. We aren't taking daily temperatures so we truly don't know if he still has a low-grade fever, but we're at peace anyway. He is very healthy, happy and ornery.

Jamie's dad had his gall bladder taken out last Tuesday and came home late Wednesday night. Healing was slow but steady. Then he started feeling ill again over the weekend and has now been diagnosed with a pretty nasty urinary tract infection. When I saw him tonight he was laid out on the couch with a high fever, a lot of pain and no energy.

Don't have time to write much tonight, so here's a sample of some of Murphy's Laws that I had posted on my office door for the past few weeks:

Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch to be sure.

All great discoveries are made by mistake.

A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.

Most problems have either many answers or no answer. Only a few problems have a single answer.

There is nothing so unbecoming on the beach as a wet kilt.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Favorite Movie Quotes #1 -- Comedy

Time for a change of pace. Jack's fever hasn't spiked lately and my father-in-law is still waiting for his surgery, so in lieu of health updates I'm glad to change the subject for a bit.

I'm a film buff. While I don't really appreciate how unimaginative and superficial Hollywood's output has been lately, I still love the whole media of movies. My personal rule is to try to watch films that will improve me as a person. Sometimes, especially in trials, this rule can be met by a good comedy. Laughing uncontrollably for a few minutes sure has a way of healing wounds of the heart.

So here are some of my favorite quotes and moments in comedy movies. These are just off the top of my head, so I'm sure I can put together another list sometime after thinking about it a little more. Happy Labor Day!

Mr. Mom -- "I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they're great... and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn't enough. You're out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you're strung out on bedspreads, Ken. That's serious. "

Airplane -- "We have clearance, Clarence. Roger, Roger, what's our vector, Victor?"

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang -- (The characters are observing women in Los Angeles) "It's like somebody took America by the East Coast, and shook it, and all the normal girls managed to hang on. "

Dodgeball -- "Nobody makes me bleed my own blood."

Caddyshack -- "So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice. "

Real Men -- "I didn't know you smoked!"
"Just after sex, Bob. I used to smoke a pack a day."
"That'll kill ya!"
"Bob, it won't kill you. But it will make you very, very sore."

The Naked Gun -- "It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano, sure it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside. "

Ace Ventura -- "Do NOT go in there!"

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More hospital time

Jamie spent most of the day at the hospital, but not for Jack. Her dad's gall bladder continued to be painful and he was re-admitted as a patient yesterday. Today he met with a surgeon and will have the gall bladder removed on Tuesday. He will stay in the hospital until then.

Jack's fever hit 102.5 last night, but has hovered just under 101 today. The pediatrician's assistant called me today and said the doctor suggested we go see the Infectious Disease group again, and I said "no thanks". If we take Jack back in for more care, it will be to a different group. The ID doctor already admitted she's done everything in her repertoire, and it hasn't resulted in anything useful.

I'm just baffled on the gall bladder issue with my father-in-law. Here's a history of the past three and a half years:

  • November 2002 -- Jamie has severe appendicitis at her 36th week of pregnancy. Both she and Samantha make it through the surgery, and the appendix was described by the surgeon as "detached, gangrenous and necrotic".
  • March 2003 -- Jamie has gallstones diagnosed and the gall bladder is removed.
  • January 2005 -- Jamie's father has severe appendicitis and the appendix is removed. He suffers fairly serious complications (infection spread throughout the abdomen) that cause him pain for months afterward.
  • May 2005 -- Jamie's mother has gall bladder trouble and the organ is removed.
  • August/September 2006 -- Jamie's father experiences severe abdominal pain and is diagnosed with an infected gall bladder. Surgery coming up on Tuesday.

Three appendixes and two gall bladders in three years for Jamie and her parents? I'm an analsyst by trade, and data like this goes beyond statistical coincidence -- there just has to be something going on here. Is it environmental? We live close to many power lines now, and lived right next to a mini electrical facility from 2000 to 2002.

I'm also concerned about the after-effects of these procedures. Humans aren't supposed to miss the appendix very much after it's removed, but the gall bladder is a useful organ in the processing and digestion of food, specifically dietary fats. Eating a good amount of healthy fats (saturates from animal fat, monosaturates from things like olive oil, and polyunsaturates from flax or salmon oils) is an important part of our family nutrition, and those dietary fats serve an important purpose in bodily function. I plan on studying this some more to see what can be done to help Jamie and her parents get the nutrients they need without taxing a system that is one or two organs short in the digestive tract.

Gotta run, and I feel bad for Jamie's dad. Can you imagine being in intense pain on Friday, getting diagnosed on Saturday morning, and having to wait until Tuesday for the surgery? At least he'll get caught up on his reading list.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Don't know if we're on the mend, but we're definitely at the end

Jack's fever remains, but it hasn't gone over 102 since Monday. Jamie and I have made an executive decision: no more doctor's visits unless:

  1. The doctors have a plan for new tests or approaches, instead of running the same tests for the eighth time and looking for trends that aren't there
  2. Jack's fever goes to 103 or higher, in which case we will probably just admit him to the hospital until this gets figured out

Our family just has no more energy or patience for this futile process of diagnosis. We've watched our son be poked, prodded and catheterized multiple times over the past two months and we are still completely lacking in even a hint of a diagnosis or solution. So their turn is over -- we're going to give Jack's body a chance to beat this bug on its own. We told the doctors this today and they understood and said they felt comfortable with this plan.

Also, here's an update on my other family members:

  • Jamie's father was admitted to the hospital today with severe abdominal pain. He's pretty sure it's a gall bladder attack, and it wouldn't surprise me if he had surgery tomorrow. He lives three doors down from us, so we will be able to help him and Jamie's mom if he's homebound for a while.
  • My grandfather had a recurrent bout of pneumonia and the doctors think they discovered a root cause -- hiatal hernia. He had some internal bleeding but it has stopped, and the hernia is not even the kind they need to operate on. It should heal with time and medicine, and hopefully that will stop the chronic pneumonia that has slammed him for most of the year.
  • My mom's recurrent bout of bronchitis seems to be clearing up. She was experiencing a constant cough and some lethargy but all symptoms are improving.

That's about it on the health front right now. Jamie and I are obviously dealing with some tiredness, but other than that we're healthy, and grateful.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Illuminating? No. Eliminating? Hopefully soon.

The high-level summary of today is that after six hours of ultrasounds, catheters and blood samples, the tests showed no identifiable serious health problems. His spleen still has some punctates (very small lesions), although they haven't increased since two weeks ago, and the spleen itself is actually smaller than last time. Liver, stomach, etc... all organs look good.

Here's the confusing part:
  • He had fever over 103 degrees each of the past two nights. Went to the pediatrician on Monday and was measured with 102 fever. Had blood taken and showed no abnormal results, even for white blood cells. How can that be when his body is clearly fighting something?
  • Today had more blood taken and still no abnormal blood results. His lymphocites were a little high (these fight viruses), but they were very low on Monday... and the picture gets murkier.
  • So it doesn't look bacterial, because the antibiotics haven't helped. It doesn't seem viral, because the lymhocites are too low. Not fungal, because his condition hasn't worsened over the past six weeks. He doesn't seem sick enough for the serious non-infectious diseases like leukemia, hepatitis, and others I won't name. But we're testing for them now anyway.

Anecdotes of the day:

  • During the ultrasound, Jack was laying on his back while the technician moved the probe around his belly. He was fussing a little, but trying to watch Sesame Street on the television in the room. All of a sudden Elmo came on the screen to sing a song, and Jack started doing this awesome shoulder/hip shimmy thing. The technician asked, "Is he dancing?" Yep, he was.
  • During the catheterization to get a clean urine sample, he kept pushing the tube back out against the nurses. The boy's got some good PC muscles. One of the nurses said, "Whoa, this boy's strong."
  • After the tube of pain, Jack got dressed again and walked around the little exam room. When he spotted the doctor (a small European woman) he stopped, looked her in the eye and did this weird hunching thing with his shoulders. The doctor asked, "Did he just size me up to get revenge later?" I think he did. Given his strength and lack of fear, he probably thinks he'll be ready to take on the whole hospital by his second birthday.
  • Our phlebotomist, Reggie, was super cool and nice. He was voted "Super Star Employee of the Month" in March, and I can see why. When he came in to take the blood, he had 12 empty vials with him. I'm not exagerrating. Jamie and I looked at that and asked, "How much blood is OK to take out of a 24-pound child?" Reggie shared our concern and called the doctor. He only filled half the vials today -- we'll do the other half on Thursday. He filled those six vials in about 30 seconds.
  • TCH is an amazing place that people come to from all over the world to have their kids treated. And in general it's a positive, happy place, with the architecture and people really working to make it so. But there are still some really, really sick kids there. After six hours in the building, you overhear a lot of conversations about "Billy's epidural" and "Taylor's transplant". Can't help but have the conflicting emotions of sadness for them, and gratefulness that Jack's illness seems far less serious than the majority of patients there.
  • Samantha stayed with friends again (thanks, Burns family!) while we spent the day at the hospital. So many people have stepped up to help us during this time and we truly appreciate every single gesture. I felt very strongly about being with Jamie and Jack today and once again someone was there to make it possible.

Short-term plan:

  • Jack will go to the pediatrician again tomorrow to have his TB skin test examined (it looks fine) and make sure everyone is caught up and on the same page. I doubt we'll do a lot more tests tomorrow, but don't put too much value on my medical forecasts.
  • Thursday we'll go back to TCH to finish Jack's blood tests. These are the biggies (leukemia, HIV, etc...) that we're almost positive aren't the problem, but it will be nice to elminate them as possibilities (hence the title of this blog post).
  • That will make four days in a row this week of going to doctors. We may take Friday off for good behavior. As long as we can behave.
  • I noticed that some of my muscles (trapezius, glutes, neck) were really sore all day today. And I haven't been to the gym in six days. Stress and its impact on the body are so fascinating. I have a whole blog post ready about that topic. For later.
  • If I had the doctor write me a prescription for "two week vacation, full body massage and 12 hours of sleep per night", do you think my company and the health insurance company would go for it?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Same old story

Last night was a tough one with very little rest. Jack woke up around 10pm (very unusual) and started fussing. Jamie took a turn first to try to soothe him, then I tried later. We both failed. Took his temp and it was already over 102. Gave him some Tylenon and called the nurse, who said if it got over 105 we should call again. Jamie let her know that if Jack's fever got over 105, after our long history of this problem, we would go straight to the hospital.

He slept on and off and eventually the fever got to 103.5, but never higher. He had another round of blood tests this morning and of course the results were the opposite of last time, and overall they were inconclusive. The rest of his exam was perfectly normal (joints, organs, sinuses, etc...). He's just cooking.

This afternoon he was settled around 102 degrees and we're schedule to go back to the Infectious Diseases department of Texas Children's Hospital tomorrow morning for more tests. They will start with blood work and an ultrasound, then we may move up to a CAT scan for a better look. After that there's pretty much nothing left except biopsies... but what to take a sample of? Nobody has a guess where this fever is coming from, and I'd rather not have them take random slices from him.

If he just stayed at a low-grade fever constantly, it would be one thing. But after six weeks of this, to still be having spikes above 103 degrees is downright scary. We don't want any more nights like last night, so our prayer is for this thing to finally show itself and allow a diagnosis.

The whole situation has gone on so long and worn us so thin that it's always there, lurking in the background. I'm often just a little more impatient with Samantha and Jamie, just a little more strained and raw in every conversation, and by the time we get the kids to bed there's hardly emotional or physical energy left at all. Jamie has helped encourage me to stay in the gym and get my workouts done, which have helped immensely. But what battle am I preparing for? We don't even know the enemy.

I'm taking off from the office for a while tomorrow to either go to the hospital with Jamie/Jack, or stay home with Samantha (she actually started a low-grade fever today as well). I'll try to post an update tomorrow afternoon or evening. Thanks again to everybody for their support through comments, emails, calls and prayers. It is getting us through!

My grandfather was admitted to the hospital today due to pneumonia (recurred several times over the past year); please remember him as well.

My friend Rob came through his nut-ectomy (I'm sure there's an official name, but it escapes me) with flying colors. So far the test results are great and show that his cancer is the less-aggressive type. Read this post for an inspirational look at a man facing down a challenge, written the day before his surgery.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Breaking news -- cat scratch is not the culprit

So we got a report today from the medical lab that all the cultures for cat scratch have finally come back... negative. It takes weeks to run these cultures, so in the meantime we've been treating it as cat scratch because the liver/spleen sonograms showed punctations, a classic sign of cat scratch. But now we know that's not the reason.

Now Jack is coming off the medicines he's on, since they were targeted to cat scratch and they don't seem to be working anyway.

We are starting all over again with no guesses of what Jack really has. The doctors (we've dealt with four different ones now) think it's probably viral. That doesn't work for me -- I want a positive diagnosis on something. Now.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.


Two very tired parents

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Jack and Sam today


Jack went back to the Infectious Diseases department of Texas Children's Hospital today, and we got good news. Even though his fever isn't down, they said that it's positive he's not feeling any worse. That may not make much sense, so let me put it this way:

Jamie and I were worred about what might be wrong with Jack's immune system, because after five weeks he still has fever.

The ID groups said that it's amazing what's right with Jack's immune system, because he's far less sick than many kids with cat scratch disease. They said it's not uncommon for kids to be in the hospital for quite a while and receiving intravenous antibiotics to help them fight the bacteria. Jack hasn't needed that.

Bottom line: we feel much better today, although Jack is simmering as always. His lack of other symptoms and his general demeanor signal that his body is going to beat this thing on its own.


Tonight was my turn to put her to bed, and she decided to read to me tonight, instead of the other way around. She chose "Guess How Much I Love You', a favorite of ours from about a year ago, although it's back in the reading rotation lately.

Get this... she didn't miss a single word. She can't read yet, of course, being 3 years old, but she had the entire book memorized precisely. She knew when to turn the page, and even when to look from the left page to the right page. Every noun, verb and inflection was right on. To illustrate my pride, I present the entire text of "Guess How Much I Love You', all in a single paragraph. This is what she recited from memory tonight (hopefully this isn't some kind of trademark violation):

Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare's very long ears. He wanted to be sure that Big Nutbrown Hare was listening. Guess how much I love you, he said. Oh, I don't think I can guess that, said Big Nutbrown Hare. This much, said Little Nutbrown Hare, stretching out his arms as wide as they could go. Big Nutbrown Hare had even longer arms. But I love you this much, he said. Hmm, that is a lot, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I love you as high as I can reach, said Little Nutbrown Hare. I love you as high as I can reach, said Big Nutbrown Hare. That is very high, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I had arms like that. Then Little Nutbrown Hare had a good idea. He tumbled upside down and reached up the tree trunk with his feet. I love you all the way up to my toes, he said. And I love you all the way up to your toes, said Big Nutbrown Hare, swinging him up over his head. I love you as high as I can hop, laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down. But I love you as high as I can hop, smiled Big Nutbrown Hare -- and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above. That's good hopping, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I could hop like that. I love you all the way down the lane as far as the river, cried Little Nutbrown Hare. I love you across the river and over the hills, said Big Nutbrown Hare. That's very far, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. He was almost too sleepy to think anymore. Then he looked beyond the thornbushes, out into the big dark night. Nothing could be farther than the sky. I love you right up to the moon, he said, and closed his eyes. Oh, that's far, said Big Nutbrown Hare. That is very, very far. Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him good night. Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, I love you right up to the moon -- and back.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Quick update

Jack still has fever, usually around 100.2 or 100.6 degrees. There's been no noticeable change since he started the antiobiotics a week ago, but the doctors want to finish the 14-day round of medicine before going back to the drawing board.

I've still got tons of blog ideas in my head, but no time or energy for them at the moment. Thanks for your support in Jack's situation -- we just really want the little guy to feel good for a change.

By the way, two people out there owe me something, and it's time to collect!

1) Uncle Bob, please send me the link to your friend's blog. He sounds like a true renaissance man.

2) Dad, I need that link to the website for downloading the audio files of your chorale practice.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What the #@!$ is going on?

Several people to add to prayers lists tonight:

  1. My friend Rob, who has been such an encourager with regular emails and prayer throughout Jack's health issues, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had a consultation today and I haven't heard the end result and treatment recommendations yet, but this just came out of nowhere.
  2. A co-worker of mine was called to the hospital today to discuss his girlfriend's pregnancy test... something came out very weird in the results. All the doctor would say is that it's either nothing or it's extremely serious, and only .002% of pregnancy tests show this result. I have no idea what that means, but my co-worker probably found out today.
  3. My mom has bronchitis. Not fun.
  4. Jack is taking antibiotics but they're causing some stomach troubles. Still constant fever. He also seems to be having some joint pain and general fussiness, which is normal for cat scratch disease. This could last another 2 to 4 weeks, but hopefully will end much sooner.

That's it -- nobody else gets sick this week. I'm officially putting all this crap "on notice".

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The "insurance companies" on the list might seem a little random, but I'll probably explain it later. If I don't get struck by lightning in my sleep.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

We're home!

24 hours after Jack was admitted to Texas Children's Hospital, we have already returned home with a clear diagnosis, two prescriptions and a big sigh of relief.

Until this morning everything was extremely confusing and fuzzy. Even the Infectious Disease specialist kept saying things like, "This is odd" and "This is very strange". Jack just didn't fit the symptoms of anything they could think of. Not what we wanted to hear.

This morning, though, they did an ultrasound on Jack's stomach and found small perforations on his spleen, and possibly a few on his liver. This finally signalled one thing -- cat scratch fever. Yep, it's not just a Ted Nugent song... apparently this extremely rare infection can hit just about anybody. After some initial research, here's the bottom line on cat scratch fever:
  • No link between cat scratches and the usual symptoms (fever, fatigue, headache, swollen lymph nodes, red areas on skin) until the 1950s. Even then, they had pinned it on the wrong bacteria, and not until very recently was bartonella finally singled out as the culprit.
  • It is usually spread from kittens and not adult cats (our cats are more than 6 years old).
  • For some reason the West coast has an abundance of cats with the bacteria, with 40% or more of kittens carrying bartonella.
  • Transmission to humans is extremely random and rare. In the words of the Infectious Disease specialst this morning, "A cat could carry the bacteria and scratch 19,000 people. One person would get cat scratch disease. And we don't know why." Because of the rarity, no studies have been possible to examine which antibiotics might be effective.
  • Even though there is seemingly a link between cat scratches and symptoms, no evidence of the bacteria has ever been found on the claws of cats -- only in their blood. It's possible that the disease actually gets transmitted by fleas or ticks, but it remains a mystery. Jack never had any visible scratches on him over the summer, so who knows... fleas or ticks may be the real cause after all.

Weird, huh? The human body almost always fights off the infection with no long-term effects, but we were given two antibiotics for Jack anyway. The doc admitted that they are "guessing" at which medicines really work on bartonella, since not enough people get it to even make formal studies possible.

I told the doc I would search the PubMed database tonight for more info, and he perked up and said I would discover that most of the papers on the subject were written by... you guessed it, Texas Children's Hospital. Were we in the right place or what?

We are soooooo glad to be home -- last night was pretty rough for Jamie, trying to get Jack to sleep in a strange place while he had an IV stuck in his hand. It's impossible to explain to a 14-month-old what's going on. At least he'll never remember any of this!

Thank you all for your prayers. We are looking forward to a healthy, fun-filled and relatively boring autumn. :)

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Taking off the kid gloves

Jack is now being admitted to Texas Children's Hospital for observation and more tests. They anticipate his stay will be 48 hours or less, which would be nice.

This is one advantage to living in Houston; I'm fairly confident that he is in one of the absolute best places in world when it comes to pediatric care. They will look at every possibility (Kawasaki syndrome, cat scratch fever, rare disorders, simple virus, etc...) until we have the answer.

Jamie will probably stay with Jack at the hospital tonight, and I'll probably stay home with Samantha. If it works out that way, I'll try to post an update tonight after Samantha goes to bed.

Here's part of the lyrics to my favorite song right now -- you can bet I'll be singing it in the car a lot today:

"Praise You in This Storm" by Casting Crowns

I was sure by now, God You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away,
stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen... and it's still raining.
As the thunder rolls I barely hear
You whisper through the rain, "I'm with you".
And as Your mercy falls I raise my hands
and praise the God who gives and takes away.

Chorus: And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands.
For You are who You are,
no matter where I am.
And every tear I've cried,
You hold in your hand.
You never left my side.
And though my heart is torn,
I will praise You in this storm.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One step at a time

Jack has an appointment with the Infectious Diseases department of Texas Children's Hospital on Friday at 10:30 am. We just keep taking it step by step.

I read this passage from "The Message" translation this morning and loved how it rang so true and personal to me right now. I pray that my response to tough times is always like this:

2Cor7:10-11 (The Message) You let the distress bring you to God not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss. Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.
And now, isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from every angle you’ve come out of this with purity of heart.

Blessed are the pure in heart, right? :)

P.S. -- Taking a cue from my friend Rob, I've enabled comments for everybody. So until the spammers get me, feel free to leave a note if you'd like!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We're poorer, tireder, and just as clueless

Jamie took Jack to Texas Children's Hospital (TCH) this afternoon for his tests. He had a chest X-ray, which showed nothing helpful. He also had three new blood tests done, which showed only elevated white blood cell count, something we already knew from the three CBC tests last week.

Next step is an appointment with the Infectious Diseases (ID) unit at TCH. It will either be on Friday or next Tuesday, so obviously we are pushing hard for Friday.

Jack's fever was 101 again tonight before bed, but he was sweet as always. I just want the little guy to be well. Last night I brought up the idea that maybe our digitial thermometer was off, because every time he was in the doctor's office his temperature was normal. Jamie looked at me and said, "Fine then, YOU try it out." Did I mention it's a rectal thermometer? I gladly tried it anyway and it read my temp as normal. I would've tested 500 of those contraptions last night if it would take Jack's sickness away. And still none of this explains the high count of white blood cells... he's clearly fighting some kind of infection.

And so we press on, praying, loving each other and trying not to panic. In the meantime at least we're getting to learn lots of new acronyms. Since we had three CBCs last week, I figure the ID at TCH won't do another on Friday, although they did do a CRP today ASAP which came out A-OK.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Time to put the smack down

So Jack's fever ain't going away. Now it's time to start checking his internal systems and potential issues, starting with a chest X-ray. This should give us a look at the lungs, heart and some lymph nodes.

The chest X-ray is also non-invasive and fairly untraumatic, at least as much as possible for a 13-month old. From there it will get a little more difficult if we don't get an answer.

Last night at 10pm Samantha came downstairs, claiming that she had to go peepee and "couldn't reach the light in the bathroom". Uh... she has a nightlight in her bathroom. Jamie later translated for me and explained that Samantha couldn't reach the light in the downstairs bathroom, near the den where we were sitting. So why did Samantha need to come downstairs in the first place? I'm sure we'll never know.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Simmering nicely...

Jack's fever is still not gone. It was 101.2 tonight when we put him to bed, although he had a very happy and playful day. He is acting totally normal except the fact that he's a hot potato. Absolutely no other symptoms have surfaced, so we have nothing to go on. We're not inclined to do more tests as none of the prior ones have helped at all. And of course, now the medical bills are piling up, especially after two ER visits during vacation.

Yesterday Jack vomited a little while sitting on the couch and playing -- it just came from nowhere. The doc said he may have overexerted himself after having fever for so long. He took a nap and woke up happy as usual.

This has been such a strange and exhausting time. Yesterday while coming home from church, we saw some guys playing baseball at the field by our house. They clearly were from the semi-pro league (the Houston Men's Amateur Baseball League, or HMABL) that I used to play in. I said, "You know, one day the kids won't be sick anymore." Jamie smiled and agreed that one day that would be the case. And so we keep on.

Couple of other tidbits:

  • At one point today Samantha called out, "My panties are a little bit wet." Jamie said OK, and next thing she knew Samantha came around the corner totally, stark naked and holding some shorts on a hanger. Not a shred of clothing on her. Shirt, shorts, socks... nothing. What can I say, the girl likes to be dry.
  • When I came home from my one-day business trip to Phoenix recently, there was a limo driver in the baggage claim area holding up a sign for "Sam Cowart". Sam is a linebacker for the Houston Texans, having previosly played for the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans. I knew my mom would've been proud if I'd chatted up the driver and waited to meet an NFL player, but I was too tired and didn't have it in me. Maybe next time. At least I did get to meet rookie quarterback Vince Young (and his posse) at the airport a few months ago.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Jack's update -- holding pattern

We took little Jack to the doctor again first thing this morning, as the doc had requested. Jack ran a little bit of fever last night (100.8), but slept fine and is fever-free so far today.

After a full regular exam (ear, nose, throat, joints, abdomen, etc...) he checked out completely normal. He then had a blood test which showed high lymphocytes, seeming to indicate a virus. But this is the opposite of his results from the other three blood tests this week, which all had high but balanced white blood cell count, indicating possible bacterial infection.

None of the "major" concerns (leukemia, meningitis, immune cell deficiency, etc...) seem to fit, because every few days the fever goes away. This wouldn't usually happen if he had a really serious illness.

Bottom line: we're no closer to figuring this thing out. Or even knowing if there is a "thing". Or if it might be over and Jack won't run fever again until he's a senior in high school. We just don't know, and there's so little to go on that it wouldn't make sense to run a battery of tests trying to find the needle in the haystack.

Plan of action: He's off all medicines now, hoping that if there's something going on that it will come to the surface and make diagnosis possible. We have copies of all Jack's recent charts and doctor's visits at home now, and if the fever spikes again we'll probably just grab all the paperwork and head to the ER. Until then, the doctor wants us to talk to him every day with updates.

Thanks for your prayers!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Health update, and kiddie quotes

Health Update

Jamie, Samantha and I are all well and healthy. Jack's fever has been over 103 several times this week, and even tonight it never got below 101. He was catheterized yesterday to get a "pure" urine sample and the lab results should be back tomorrow. According to the doc, if the tests come back positive for a urinary tract infection, then we'll have to do a renal ultrasound (shoot dye into his urethra and track the flow to make sure the plumbing is okay). If it's not a UTI, then we're back to square one and that's a kinda scary thought. He's been on at least four different antibiotics over the past six weeks, yet his fever continues. My thanks go to all of you praying and thinking about us, especially my friend Rob who mentioned it on his blog.

Samantha's Funnies

Tonight we took a walk after dinner and she looked up and yelled, "Daddy, look! La luna is out in the daytime! Silly la luna!" For those of you not living on a bilingual street, "la luna' is Spanish for "the moon". And it was indeed rising just prior to sunset, which was simply hilarious to her.

Just after that, we had this conversation:

Sam: Daddy, you and Mommy need to go on a date!
Me: Okay, should it be a fast date? Or an all-day date?
Sam: All day. That way I can play with Nana and Gramps and RoRo and PawPaw.
Me: You betcha. I'll miss you if I'm on a long date, but I'll see what I can do.
Sam: (With a worried look) Don't go forever, though.
Me: Don't worry; I promise we'll come back.

Jack's Quotes

He's only 13 months so his quotes are captured quite easily. His entire spoken vocabulary at the moment consists of the following words: ball, uh-oh, out, up. "Out" and "up" are new words this week. The former is for all the times he stands at the door wanting outside (I reportedly did the same thing at his age). The latter is when he wants out of his high chair following a meal.

Luckily he also has learned sign language pretty well which helps him communicate even more. We did this with both children and it's been so useful! Still, I thought about it some more, and just a week ago all he could say was "ball" and "uh-oh".

I realized that these two words could pretty well carry him through his first three or four years of life. "Ball" for when it was time to play. "Uh-oh" for when playtime turned dangerous, destructive, or just plain clumsy. All other communication could be handled through grunting, pointing, crying or laughing. Kinda like the communication of married couples. Especially ones with sick kids. :)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Vacation wrapup and other tidbits

Vacation Recap

I've decided to cut short part 2 of the vacation summary -- after re-reading the previous post it just smacks of complaining. So I have put myself on notice for "conduct unbecoming a Christian." :)

Bottom line: In addition to the previous post (Friday through Monday), these other things happened during the trip:

  • My 18-month-old nephew fell and broke his shin.
  • My mom was stung four times when a wasp swarm came over her.
  • Our new van got a flat tire.
  • Jamie's medicine for the giardia forced her to wean Jack from nursing. Not his favorite part of the trip, and it caused some sleepless nights.
  • The weather stayed near record-high temperatures all week, until the morning we left when there was a high of 89 degrees. The next day the high was 83.
  • On Thursday my family had a great time at an indoor waterpark! This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
  • We loved getting to spend the time with my extended family, and that made it all worthwhile!

Recent News

Jack was treated for his giardia (yes, he got it too) and has finished his round of antibiotics. He also had that 104 degree fever I mentioned, which isn't a symptom of giardia and has left us clueless and confused. His fever went away for a few days, and came back again today at over 102. I'm really concerned that there might be something else going on that the doctors aren't finding, but so far no door has opened to help us find a solution.

Jamie and I are back to healthy living, getting in the gym and eating well. I've been pretty down emotionally lately with several contributing factors (family concerns, job situation, new church home, etc...) but it's amazing how all of it is easier to deal with when I'm exercising. To give you an idea how sparse my workouts have been, I actually lost all remnants of my deadlift scabs (found on the shins of those who deadlift heavy weights and tend to drag the bar up their legs). Gross? Maybe, but it was a sign to me that it's time to get back to putting my body through positive challenges. Both Jamie and I are super-excited and energized by our rededication to keeping our temples tuned up.

Oh yeah, also, when we returned home from vacation, we had a notice from our home insurance company that they were going bankrupt and our coverage would cease in August. Nice. And it will be months until we get our escrow back. Until then, we have to start a new policy and are reviewing quotes right now. They're not terribly expensive in Texas terms, but remember that Texas is #1 in the country for home insurance prices (meaning the most expensive), and we're 40% more than the #2 state. At least there's no state income tax!


  1. Yesterday I saw a sign outside a plumbing store that said, "We are #1 in the #2 business."
  2. I found out that my company's secretary used to be a dancer in MC Hammer's group. Awesome! One day I'm gonna walk into the office while doing the "2 Legit 2 Quit" dance.

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Hammer Time!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More of the same

I flew to Phoenix this morning to give a presentation to the largest credit union in Arizona, then flew back home and got in the door a little after 9pm. Jamie let me know that Jack had over 104-degree fever today, and we have another appointment with the doctor tomorrow. I don't know why my family keeps getting so ill; please keep us in your thoughts and prayers...

I'll finish up the vacation story later this week. After reading part 1, I realize that there are tons of weird grammatical things and verb tense changes, but the scattered writing pretty much fits the content. Expect more of the same for part 2 -- hope it isn't to difficult to read and follow along.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

National Lampoons has nothing on us! (Part 1)

Whew, we're back from vacation. And it didn't quite turn out to be a "vacation from my problems", as noted in the last post before leaving. In fact, the family chaos multiplied with every mile farther from home. Here now is a rough play-by-play of the trip. It might be a somewhat lengthy read, but hopefully it will be funny for you, and it sure as heck will be cathartic for me!

Note: Even after the unfortunate incidents, I would do this vacation again in a heartbeat. The time spent with family was priceless, and it's impossible to replace the memories of seeing my children bonding with 12 relatives over a week's time.

Note #2: I'm breaking this up over two entries. It's just too darn long. :)

Friday -- Day 0 (Departure Day)

We left Houston around 3:30 pm, and an hour later I realized that I had forgotten the power cord for my laptop computer, which was also doubling as a DVD player for the kids on the 16-hour drive. Oops. Two weeks ago Jamie went out and bought a cool converter that plugged into the cigarette lighter, and now I forgot my power cord. We let them watch a movie until the computer died, then bought a new power cord for $100 in Dallas, where we stopped for dinner.

At 7:30 pm we had the part, everyone had eaten, and we were back on the road. Went to plug in Jamie's cool power converter so we could charge up the computer and, oops... it's the wrong kind. It doesn't fit into the cigarette lighter. In fact, I don't know what it would fit into. It's just two wires ending separately, like they'd connect directly to a battery. No DVDs for the kids, and they cried until 11:30 pm. At 11:45 I gave up in Muskogee, OK and stopped at a hotel. As I was checking in, the clerk informed me that their entire system was about to go offline for four hours to do an internal audit. She had to process my transaction by automated phone system, which took forever. I finally returned to the car and my near-heatstroke family (I had the van's keys in my pocket) and we got into the hotel room. Hmmm, why wasn't it any cooler? It's midnight and we drove over 400 miles due north... it shouldn't be this hot.

Kids went to sleep fairly well, but Samantha shared our queen bed and "slept" between me and Jamie. I'd liken the experience to sleeping with a tasmanian devil. On qualudes. I distinctly remember waking up at 3 am and saying, "Samantha. Get. Your. Feet. Off. My. Face." At least my computer was charging in the hotel room, so the next day's driving would have a DVD option for the kids.

Saturday -- Day 1 (Arrival Day)

Drove the last 5 hours without much trouble and arrived in Osage Beach, MO at 2:30 pm. Great to see my family again! Many hugs and kisses abounded, and for dinner a friend of the family brought his legendary ribs, brisket, chicken and beans. My dad led the family meeting to lay down the ground rules for the week (take care of the dock/jet skis, which families cook on certain nights, where to put trash, don't give the Houstonians nuts or eggs (allergies), and so on). We're all together now, 16 people sharing a four-bedroom house; what a great way to start the vacation! It's hot as heck, though. And the kids slept terribly again... if they don't start resting well it's going to be a loooong week.

Sunday -- Day 2 (The Chaos Begins)

I started the day by playing golf with my dad and brother -- something I've waited two years for! My bro did an awesome job getting us a discounted rate ($21) at a very nice course. We had fun, although Dad's knee really bothered him (he had a full knee replacement in December) and it was super hot. We took a break for lunch after nine holes and almost didn't get back out there to finish the round.

Got home around 5pm and I jumped in the shower. Ahhh, now this is vacation. Right around the hair conditioning phase of the shower, Jamie comes in to tell me that Samantha is vomiting. Weird. Samantha is 3 and a half years old and has only vomited twice in her life -- once in an allergic reaction (peanuts) and once from a terrible crupe that was inhibiting her breathing.

I immediately left the shower and was told Samantha had eaten peanut M&M's. A family member had missed my dad's meeting and didn't know about the allergy -- totally not her fault. Nobody would ever intend to kickstart a reaction like Samantha was having; this was just an accident and weird coincidence that the person who missed the meeting also happened to offer a nutty food to Samantha 24 hours later. Samantha vomits one more time for good measure, and her nose is super-congested, but besides that she seems fine. We always have an epinephrine injection on hand for serious reactions, but this one looks to be minor. We put her in bed and planned on giving her a hearty breakfast in the morning.

Oh, I almost forgot. When her second vomiting occured, we freaked out a little bit and wanted to call the hospital to get some advice. While running to get the phone book, I tripped over a chair and broke my pinky toe. Nice.

Monday -- Day 3 (Scrubs Day)

Samantha woke us up at 5 am with severe vomiting, eventually turning to dry heaves. This continued every 20 minutes until 8 am, when we decided to take her to the medical clinic. There ends up being no doctor on hand there, so they send us to the Emergency Room at Lake Hospital. We go through the triage process and Samantha is admitted to the ER. She had already cried and looked me in the eyes to say, "Daddy, please don't let them give me a shot." Now they're saying they need to do an IV to rehydrate my daughter. What am I supposed to say?
"Sugar, don't worry, there won't be a small needle poking you for a few seconds. Instead, there will be a much larger needle staying in your arm for the next few hours. It'll be fun!"

Yeah, I don't think that'll work, either. Eventually a couple of nurses literally hold her down while another nurse puts the IV in. Samantha does very well and gets the fluids she needs. But the vomiting continues. The doctor puts some phenegren in the IV and that stopped the vomiting. And knocked Samantha out cold. She is finally resting while we wait on her blood test results.

I look over at Jamie to say something, and she looks white as a sheet. She had been experiencing stomach trouble for two weeks prior to this trip (she had blood test done five days earlier but the results still weren't in), and now she's been to the hospital restroom at least seven times since Samantha came in. She says, "Michael, I think I need to see a doctor." No problem.

I go back to the triage area, now to process my wife in addition to my daughter. Someone on staff overhears what's going on and then this conversation ensues:

Her: "So you brought your daughter in this morning, and now your wife is sick too?"
Me: "That's right."
Her: "Do they have the same thing?"
Me: "No, they have very different symptoms, so I don't think so."
Her: "Is everybody else in your family okay?"
Me: "Well, I broke my toe last night, but I don't think you guys can fix that. And my son just got over a nasty virus three days ago, but he seems fine."
Her: "Okayyyyy. And no, we can't do anything for your toe. It'll have to heal on its own."
Me: "Thanks. I just want to get my girls well."
Her: "Are you here on vacation?"
Me: "Yep, just started."
Her: "Oh, sorry."

The doc finally comes in and tells us that Samantha probably has a stomach bug -- this is not an extended allergic reaction. He says that he won't give any more medicine to her because further vomiting may be good to get out the bad stuff. Riiiiight. And when her head spins around I'll say it's good for her neck flexibility. At least she's still sleeping.

A nurse comes in to tell me, "Michael, we found out what's been going on. Your wife has giardia." I say, "Wow, I'm so glad you guys figured it out! And I have no idea what you just said." She continues to tell me that giardia is a nasty and rare bacteria that infects people when they swim in rivers and streams inhabited by beavers. Huh? We live in Houston. You know, 5 million people, lots of traffic, incessant heat, low cost of living. Not many beaver-populated streams, though.

The nurse is amazed that Jamie has had this for two weeks and hasn't passed it on to us, since it's highly contagious. Score one for Jamie and her diligent hand-washing practices. We are prescribed an antibiotic that will take care of the giardia over the next seven days.

Finally we're released from the ER, both girls in tow. Samantha vomits again in the van when she wakes up, and the doctor reiterates that he won't prescribe any more phenegren, and to just bring Samantha in again if she gets dehydrated. Sounds like a party. We pick up Jamie's prescription and take her and her very contagious bacteria back to the house with 12 other people. Did I mention the temperature outside is over 100 degrees, with heat index over 110? Are we really 500 miles north of Houston?

Tonight we had dinner and Samantha wanted food, but we couldn't give her any due to the constant vomiting. She looked me right in the eye with pouty lips and said, "Daddy, I'm hungry! Please give me food!" Somebody shoot me.

When the kids go to sleep, Jamie looks at me and asks, "Do you have your sense of humor back yet?" I respond, "Sure, I guess! It's still vacation, right?" She says, "Honey, I have chiggers." Boy, does she ever. The little varmints have gotten her on the legs, the hips, the stomach, and the uh.... bikini line. That must be so much fun for her!

We finally go to bed, Jamie with her giardia and chiggers, me with a broken toe, and poor Samantha with a nasty stomach bug and no food for the last 36 hours.

to be continued...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What day is it? And funny last words...

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. I know I've said this a few times recently, but c'est la vie, I guess. In the last two months, I honestly don't think that there have been more than five days without someone in my family being sick. Right now Jack is getting over another virus and Jamie is now on day 13 of a stomach bug.

Trust me, I have 10 blog posts already written in my head and they will make it here at some point, but it will have to wait. I'm going on vacation next week! A vacation from my problems, as the good doctor in the film "What About Bob?" would say.

Until then, here are four interesting "last words" from dying men (the last one is my dad's favorite).

"Who is it?" -- Billy the Kid in 1881, upon hearing a knock at the door in a house at Fort Sumner. Sheriff Pat Garret was the one knocking and killed Billy seconds later.

"Why not? After all, it belongs to him." -- Charlie Chaplin, 1977, in response to a priest at his deathbed who said, "May the Lord have mercy on your soul."

"This is the fourth?" -- Thomas Jefferson, on the evening of July 3, 1826. While the attendant caring for Jefferson on his deathbed lied and said yes, it was July 4th, Jefferson still held on until noon the following day. He died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..." -- General John Sedgwick, 1864, while looking across a valley at Conferederate sharpshooters during the Civil War. Sedgwick had just finished berating his soldiers for cowardice when they warned him to stay low and out of sight.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Community -- the flipside

I've seen many articles over the past few years lamenting the end of local communities, the "front porch family times" between neighbors and other similar events. Entertainment overload, the internet and long commutes are keeping us at arms' length from each other. I must confess that from my experience this is certainly true. I know only a few of my neighbors. Heck, I only speak the same language as a few of my neighbors. My street just isn't likely to be the source of great friendships and support groups as I raise my family.

Yet there's a flipside to all of this. Entertainment, internet and commutes are actually giving us opportunities to discover new communities that didn't exist a generation ago. Use me as an example. In the past few years I've changed jobs, moved into a new house and changed churches. There's been no ability for me to maintain a consistent local community throughout all of this. However, two other community sources have flourished: my family and the internet.

People often chuckle at the idea of the internet as a connection tool -- can you really connect with people through something as impersonal as email or message boards? Well, I say why not? For over 50 years we've all seen movies and read books that told of great romances started through penpal relationships. Even this month you can go to theaters and see "The Lake House", a film involving a man and woman who fall in love after writing letters to each other (across time, no less). If long-distance writing can bring together soulmates, why can't it bring together life-long friends? This happens every day online.

The JPFitness forum is a prime example. A few years ago I logged on to this fitness message board to learn about some new workouts and get some baseball training advice. I still go there almost every day, and have developed great friendships with many of them. This year was the first time I went to their annual summit in Little Rock and actually met almost 30 of them in person. It remains one of the most powerful and "real" experiences I've ever had, and it was with people whom I only knew through the internet before driving 500 miles to meet them face-to-face.

There are still many others on the forum that I've never met or talked to on the phone, yet their friendship is a significant part of my personal community. I've written to men on the boards about dealing with spouses going through severe depression. Jamie has written similar notes using her personal experiences. I've written, prayed and cried with men on the boards going through divorce and heartache. There have been joyous times as well. In fact, for the past two weeks I've been reading "Diary of a Wombat" to Samantha at bedtime, and the only way I heard about the book was through a friend I met on the fitness forum.

Usually my blog posts are fairly linear and have a point... not so much the case this time. I guess I just wanted to say that in this time of job changes, church changes and hectic family life, I thank God for the internet. Some people may use computers as a means of escaping the real world, but it doesn't have to be that way. If you are sincerely looking, you can find great learning and personal support through this tangled web. I plan to continue using it that way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Everyday heroes

One of my Father's Day gifts last weekend was a date with my wife. That was a wonderful surprise! We went to see the new X-men movie and it was jam-packed with dozens and dozens of mutants with special powers. I realized that there must be many of these "level 1" mutants all around me, with subtle yet real abilities.

Here are a couple I've thought of so far. Feel free to let me know about others you've observed!

Ultra finger man

Every night when I leave my office, I get on the 8th floor elevator to go down to the lobby level and leave the building. I push the button for "1", the doors close, and usually someone else gets on around floor 5 or 6, which are busy office floors. Inevitably a man will get on the elevator, look at the buttons, see that the "1" is already lit up... and push it anyway. For years I have wondered: what are these people doing?

Now I know -- they're mutants. This is their special power. And a mighty impressive skill it is, I must say.

Future-view pilot

Houston is known for its traffic, so after years of daily commutes I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject. And in any slow traffic jam, there's at least one person constantly weaving from lane to lane, trying to get an edge on everyone else.

I'm convinced that these drivers have the ability to see into the future, albeit in a nearsighted fashion. One minute they're positive that the left lane is best... but then the future vision changes and they must move over two lanes to the right. Maybe they can only see the most probable future at any moment, and the constant shifts in traffic flow change the scenario of the most likely future.

What mutants do you see around you every day?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Happy BD, Jack!

Our son Jack (a.k.a. "Jackie-boy", "Jackie-poo" and "Jack-Jack") turned one year old on Wednesday just after 4pm. We didn't do much on that particular day, but will have a small celebration this weekend, including cake of course.

Here's a quick glimpse of Jack at 3 days, 3 months and 10 months. Pictures worth 1,000 words and all that...

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